CYA (Control Your Agenda)

Most of my life, I’ve followed a path of my choosing and made it a priority to do the things I enjoyed in a responsible manner.  In addition, helping others has been and always will be important to me.

I’ve never been afraid to make choices that were good for my being or pursue a direction that interested me.  Sometimes those decisions were delayed although eventually I got on the proper course. 

It’s what I like to call CYA or “Control Your Agenda”.

The Best Man at my 2003 wedding talked briefly about my CYA philosophy which brought a smile to my face.  Our life is made up of choices and each one of us has the opportunity to use them to our own benefit and/or the benefit of others.  

Since our time on earth is so short, why not control the flow and rhythm of your life?  Isn’t a life on your terms the most worthwhile? 

I realize it can be a tough road to navigate as often people think they know what’s good for you, when in reality they are trying to persuade you to think or be like them. Sometimes, your inner voice is the one to adhere to.  One can still listen to and/or follow the wise advice and counsel of others (I have and still do) as long at they have your best interests in mind.

Some didn’t think moving to New York City was the right move for me. I appreciated their concern but I wanted the sizzle, challenge and excitement that only the Big Apple can provide.  It was a GREAT ten years and invaluable, both personally and for my business career.

Often, one’s journey makes it impossible to live a life desired although in my experience, bad choices and/or irresponsibility are the main culprits in that regard. If one is prudent and responsible (not easy to do in our world of temptations), doing what you want in life is usually within your control. Irresponsible choices can put a severe damper on an otherwise bright light.

Or sometimes one makes a good decision too late, thus wasting precious time/years in life or relationships. I spent four years in Boston although that was almost cut in half as two years was enough for me. I didn’t listen to the wisdom of friends and my inner voice. It was the only period where I wasted time living in a place too long. Fortunately, it’s been rare when I wasted time in a relationship.

We've all known numerous people who haven’t been bold or courageous enough to control their life in the manner they desire – some going with any flow or the opinion of another, while others let life control them.  In addition, those who pepper their conversations with “should have” or “could have” can frequently be guilty of not fulfilling their dreams.

Below is a list of “Controlling Your Agenda” aspects I’ve admired, embraced or lived; with many emanating from people close to me who exemplify “being the author of their own life”.

CYA aspects of life including but not limited to:

--    Living life on your terms, NOT for others like a parent, friend or family member
--    Choosing a life of Responsibility over Irresponsibility
--    Doing a job you like or are passionate about
--    Having daily or weekly “Me Time” – undisturbed time for yourself to do whatever you enjoy
--    Embracing life like a child occasionally
--    Having a least one passion or hobby outside of your day job
--    Not living “solely” for your kids and neglecting your needs
--    Helping others
--    Putting yourself FIRST in order to serve others best
--    Standing up for your beliefs
--    Not living vicariously through others or your children
--    Embracing music, nature and the unknown
--     Having a pattern of healthy relationships NOT toxic ones or NOT those that waste years of your precious time
--    “Choosing Wisely” for marriage and NOT being with someone who only makes you feel good
--    Not falling victim to any type of addiction
--    Having good friends who enhance your life, not those who dampen your spirit
--    Having a yearly men’s/women’s weekend – no spouse, no kids...only those friends who you enjoy spending time with
--    Embracing the good values taught by your parents
--    NOT being controlled by a bad or non-caring parent
--    Embracing a life of healthy eating and moderate exercise
--    Passion, Enthusiasm, Boundless Energy, Positivity and Gratitude
--    Knowing how to relax and taking time to relax
--    Being focused, having a direction and setting goals
--    Loving deeply
--    Having of the most important 
--    Teaching one's children with love, discipline and boundaries
--    Living outside of your birth country for a few years

The aforementioned list is not the “bible” of what one should do nor does one have to embody the entire list.  In my opinion, embracing some or many of these elements can help one lead a balanced, low stress and enjoyable life – the kind of life that leads to longevity.

You may have a different set of criteria or not even care about CYA. There are different strokes for different folks.

Also, one can find many ways to effectively lead the life they envision or desire…but it’s hard to implement if you’re not controlling your agenda. And it’s almost impossible to reach one’s dreams if one doesn’t have a goal or direction.

Some final questions:

A)    Are you in the “would have, should have, could have” crowd?
B)    Are you leading an unfulfilled or complacent life?
C)    Are you not living up to your potential?
D)    Is your world uninspired?
E)     Are you unhappy?
F)     Are you unmotivated in your job?

If you can answer NO to all of the questions, keep doing what you are doing.

If you answered YES to any of the above, chances are that you are not adhering to CYA, or in simple terms, NOT knowing what you want in life, NOT caring about what you desire or NOT doing what you want.

If you want to change your circumstances or outcome, CYA in some form or fashion must be top of mind.

I love the words from the song “Secret O' Life”:

And since we’re only here for a while
Might as well show some style
Give us a smile
(James Taylor)

How’s your style? Do you have one?

How’s your smile? Do you show it?

Finding your OWN style and doing it with a smile is a good way to start “Controlling Your Agenda”.  If you begin the CYA journey, life may start to bloom in ways you may have never imagined.

The late and brilliant Mr. Technology said it best in his version of CYA:

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
(Steve Jobs)

Remember, if you’re not controlling your agenda, something or someone else is!

Control Your Agenda.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

He took CYA (Control Your Agenda) to its highest form.

Happy 25 Years to the 1986 UVM Alumni!

Wow.  25 years has past since I graduated and left the comfort of The University of Vermont (UVM) and the often extraordinary fun that only college can provide.

Interestingly, before I stepped foot on campus in the summer of 1982, I had a great feeling about my upcoming college experience and overall, my 4 years lived up to my expectations. 

My late spring visit to UVM was to determine if I would accept their basketball scholarship offer.  

Fortunately, I stayed with freshman basketball player Bill Brown during my brief visit. He showed me a great time, introduced me to some nice people and took me downtown to get a taste of the nightlife UVM was known for.  In addition, he was honest about his short time with the team which I appreciated.  He’s been one of my dearest friends ever since.

After only a few days, I knew that this was the place for me.

Unfortunately, the basketball portion of my experience turned out to be a low point for me (and many others) although I always stayed positive and reminded myself that I was enjoying college for free – a rare luxury.

During my senior year, the basketball team accomplished something courageous and important – a feat that paved the way for our great basketball success in the past 15 years. That makes me proud.  A book on the team and what occurred will be written in the future.

On my weekly blog, I’ve yet to write fully about my collegiate years as I want to dedicate the proper time and effort in order to capture the essence of my experience. I plan to put pen to paper on UVM in the coming year.

Since Michael Jackson was a big part of college (“Thriller” came out in my first year),  I touched briefly on UVM in my article “My 3 Favorite Mike’s”. Below is a passage and the link:

First, imagine this scene:

It's my freshman year in college as a Division 1 basketball student-athlete. I have a free education due to a 4 year scholarship. One weekend I go out with some friends to the local disco in town. Pretty young ladies are everywhere and I am on the dance floor rocking the night away with one of them. The tune playing is Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. At that moment, I felt like I was floating on a cloud! I said to myself, "Ah,......this is the GOOD LIFE". I knew that the night, the rest of year and my final three years would be something special. And were they ever - I soaked up college like a sponge and enjoyed moments that were absolutely delicious.
Micheal Jackson started it off for me that weekend and his music was ubiquitous during my four years as I vividly remember dancing at parties to "ABC" or other great Jackson 5/Michael tunes. In college, I don't recall an event or party that didn't feature at least one Jackson song.

Today,  I only want to say THANK YOU to all those people who shared those magical moments with me and made most interactions warmly entertaining and/or interesting.  Whether it was time spent with a senior in 1982 or a freshman in 1985 or those in between, the memories are fond ones.

To the 1986 Alumni, I know that many of you were able to go back to campus this weekend (25 year reunion) to share memories and enjoy the beauty of our picturesque university.  If not, my hope is that you took a few moments to reminisce about our exciting years from 1982 to 1986.

In my frequent conversations over the years with a variety of alumni (older and younger), only one person expressed unhappiness about UVM. She stayed less than a year at Vermont although I wish she had stayed longer.

Every other person (some graduated in the 50’s) spoke glowingly about their time at UVM which speaks volumes about our university.  It was rare not to see a big smile on someone’s face as we talked.

I’m grateful for the privilege.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Gswede and UVM graduate Jeannie (Picture by Bill Brown)

"Turn Down the Lights"

The year was 2000 and it was a bitterly cold November evening in Massachusetts.  I was visiting my friend Sheldon and happy to be heading to the warmth of a pre-holiday party in the heart of downtown Boston.

As we entered the apartment, I could sense something was amiss although I couldn’t put my finger on it. Everything seemed just right.  The style of the place was elegant, the crowd was diverse and interesting, the music was lively and the food was great. 

We did the usual “meet and greet” and then came a subtle yet powerful moment.

Engaged in small talk with the host, Sheldon whispered to him, “You have to turn down the lights”.  His delivery was firm yet caring.  Not much more was said and with Sheldon’s well-known social history, the host promptly acquiesced.

Now that my eyes were more open, it was unusually bright in the apartment and the moment could have easily been mistaken for a daytime party!

Once the lights came down, the mood and atmosphere immediately went up a level; an incredible transformation –  the final piece of the party puzzle.  Guests were more comfortable with the dimly lit room and the vibe became magnificent. What a difference. It was a lesson I’ll never forget.

I’ve tried (and usually succeeded) to pay attention to detail when hosting or putting together events although this moment was profound. It became crystal clear how important it is to have all the party elements in sync not just 90%.

The lesson:

Whether it is a meeting, party or any type of event, make sure to do all the things (little and big) necessary to ensure the moment is the best it can be for the guests. Attention to detail is critical.

Elements like temperature, lights, food, space, music and diversity (just to name a few) are crucial to get right.

The aforementioned party wouldn’t have been the same without Sheldon’s deft touch. 

It was a wonderful evening.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

The atmosphere at our (Elmer, Roland and Gswede) 2006 Halloween party was electric!

Sweden’s Immigrants – Paradise Lost?

A dear American friend sent me an article not long ago about immigrants in Sweden. It captured the essence of many immigrants I know or have spoken with – an experience in stark contrast to the pleasant life enjoyed by most Swedes.

This friend is married to a Swedish woman and lives in the USA.  If he once considered moving to Sweden, I doubt it would ever happen now after hearing and reading over the years about what he could expect. Since he rarely sends me anything, I knew the article hit a nerve.

The article was informative yet provided no surprises for me as I have lived and learned in Sweden for nearly 8 years – first in Stockholm and now in a smaller town in southern Sweden. My experience after 5 years can be found on the following link.

Since arriving in 2004, I’ve made it a priority to speak to people I’ve encountered (including almost every immigrant) on my frequent travels around Sweden.  It’s been a wonderful way to learn more about the culture from Swedes and the challenges from immigrants.

The immigrants who spoke with me came from various countries. Some were friends and clients while others were academics entrepreneurs, business people or strangers. A significant portion of stories I heard came from taxi drivers.

Interestingly, most were underemployed or unemployed. “Frozen” out of the job market was something the aforementioned article highlighted although it’s old news to me. Before I arrived in Sweden, I was fortunate to be told how difficult the job market would be.

Most immigrants were eager to speak with me. I got the sense that some never had the chance to “exhale” and tell their story to a welcoming ear. The experiences were vastly different and often compelling although eerily similar in two ways:

1)      The majority were glad and thankful that they had a comfortable life in Sweden – an existence most confessed would be more challenging (and in some cases harsh) if they had remained in their birth countries.

2)      Whether they had lived in Sweden for 2, 10 or 30 years, most were satisfied with life yet not happy.

The dismay about job conditions for immigrants that I mentioned earlier came from my conversations with ex-pats in Sweden before my wife and I moved here. EACH person told me similar stories about how hard it would be to obtain quality employment along with other cultural challenges. Satisfaction reigned supreme in their voices about Sweden not happiness.

Due to their forthright nature, I was prepared for the obstacles I would face.  That made my transition much easier.  I’ve known others who were told the opposite (easy to find a job) before moving although they spoke with Swedes beforehand not immigrants. You can imagine their disappointment when they thought it would be a “Cinderella” work experience.

There are exceptions to the rule in my inner circle – immigrants who are happy in Sweden although I hope that number will increase in future years. Most of the happy ones are blessed to have quality jobs and are very positive.

Fortunately, I’m happy.  I was able to find that rare employer willing to judge me on my merits and not the fact that I’m not Swedish. Before I landed my job, it was tough on me as there were many jobs I was interested in yet never had the opportunity to have an interview  Despite my tough beginning years in Sweden, I’m grateful for my lovely life.

Here’s one of my interview experiences before I moved to Sweden:

I was excited even though I had those ex-pat voices spinning in my head. I had the interview when my wife and I visited one month before our move. It was pleasant, enjoyable and obvious that I was the most qualified candidate. The VD (CEO) of this very well known organization said after, “You have more experience than all of the other six candidates combined”, which was nice to hear. He later said, “I can’t hire you because the employees wouldn’t be comfortable with a non-Swedish speaker”.  Keep in mind that everyone spoke English. That was a bitter pill to swallow as I could have helped them immensely despite the language discomfort but they were more concerned with what I call “Comfort over Improvement” in hiring; something that occurs far too often here in regards to employing foreigners.

Life is VERY good for a majority of the people living in Sweden – a Paradise especially if one compares it with other parts of the world. Our economy is strong and we are the envy of the business world due to our strong recovery from the financial crises.

For many immigrants, the word “Paradise” would never enter into the conversation if they were describing their life in Sweden.

A few weeks back,  I was talking to a  intelligent immigrant taxi driver (9 years here) who was fighting the tears as he spoke of his journey. He informed me of his insane monthly hours and the meager pay he received for his driving efforts – shocking to say the least. According to him, it was the only job he was able to get.

Other malicious things flowed out of his mouth as well – words that were frighteningly harsh. He’s a bitter man and displayed a rage I had never seen before; a rage that should worry Sweden.

After our 15 minute conversation, he said to me, “all of the immigrants in Sweden are strangers. Some are treated better as I am sure you are coming from the USA or those from the UK. People like me (Middle East) or Muslims have a much tougher road to navigate. But, remember, we are all strangers.”

Let’s hope we can all come closer together in future years as Sweden has so many positives (i.e. a great place to raise kids, safe, beautiful nature) although the black eye will always be present as long as qualified immigrants don’t have the chance to compete for jobs or feel as if they are “Strangers in Paradise”.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

A moment of Paradise. (lovely photo by friend Patrick)